How cold is it? It's so cold even Minnesotans don't like it

People bundled up in their hooded jackets wait for a a bus in Rochester.
People bundled up in their hooded jackets wait for a bus in subzero temperatures in downtown Rochester, Minn.
Joe Ahlquist | The Rochester Post-Bulletin via AP

When temps drop into the minus 20s and 30s, things don't necessarily go as expected. They might be worse — or not as bad.

At the Regions Hospital Emergency Department in downtown St. Paul, there have been many cold-weather injuries, but not as many as they were geared up for, said Dr. Ollie Garrison.

"I actually think people have been taking the advice pretty well so far because even though we are seeing quite a few people with frostbite we were expecting more," he said.

Garrison said the advance warning of the bitter cold had people ready for the dangerous weather.

"I think there's good preparation and there are people who are bundling up and staying dry and staying warm, and a lot of people just probably aren't even going to work these couple of days if they can help it," he said.

Garrison said the people who ran into trouble generally were homeless. Local shelters have been working with law enforcement to get people off of the streets and into warm settings.

People Serving People operates the region's largest shelter for children and families. The shelter's CEO Daniel Gumnit said they've been operating at capacity and working with other social service agencies to get people inside. But Gumnit said not everyone accepts help.

"We're really fortunate here in the Twin Cities to have such great coordination between government entities and not-for-profits, and one of the challenges is with individuals who are experiencing homelessness who are resistant to come in out of the cold," Gumnit said.

Minnesotans are familiar with storm-related power outages in summer, but not so much in winter. After about 150 homes in the Princeton area lost natural gas service, Xcel Energy took the rare step of asking customers in a half-dozen central Minnesota communities to turn down their heat to take some of the burden off of the supply system.

The utility's director of community relations John Marshall said crews were ready to respond to the outage which occurred at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"We saw this weather coming just like in the summer with extreme heat and weather fronts," he said. "We plan days in advance staffing up with crews, extra crews, additional gas and electric crews to mobilize when issues pop up."

Wednesday afternoon the utility asked all Minnesota customers to turn their thermostats down to 63 degrees until Thursday morning, "so our gas system can continue to operate well for customers across the state."

Mark Karnowski lives in Lindstrom, Minn., and got a phone call from Xcel asking him to turn down the heat.

"It's unacceptable," he said.

Karnowski's furnace is getting gas but he said the experience has been nerve-racking.

"You just sit here and worry," he said. "You know,'Is it tonight at 2 in the morning am I going to hear the furnace go on or am I going to have to figure out what to do if it doesn't.' It's very unsettling."

Many Minnesota school districts closed schools and announced closures for a fourth consecutive day Thursday.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation said while treacherously difficult-to-see black ice has been a problem, roads have held up pretty well over the past couple of days. Spokesperson Kevin Gutknecht said the light fluffy, low-moisture snow that fell before temperatures plummeted didn't stick to roadways, which helped.

"So you didn't see a lot of compaction on the road. Compaction is when you drive down the road you see where the wheel tracks are and it's this piled up snow that turns into ice that turns into slippery spots that are really problematic. We didn't have much of that," he said.

Gutknecht also said lower than usual traffic volumes helped make getting around easier. The forecast calls for unseasonably warm weather this weekend. Still, the state transportation department said it's readying equipment for yet more snow next week.

Metro Transit said it ran into some light rail transit problems. Some tracks on the Blue Line in Minneapolis cracked and had to be repaired. John Humphrey, who oversees the network of track, said some switching that's normally done electronically had to be done manually because of the bitter cold.

"We are equipped to deal with these cold temperatures that we're experiencing right now and that's exactly what we did."

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